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Holiday Crafts for the Busy Parent

by Kathy Cano-Murillo

Kathy Cano-Murillo

Kathy Cano-Murillo is known as the Crafty Chica. She's published six books on crafts, has a popular blog, writes a nationally syndicated craft column, and hosts a popular webisode series on called Crafting With the Chica. Read more »

The holidays are to kids what chocolate chips are to cookies: Delightful, with a side of sensory overload.

It may seem daunting to make the most of the experience, especially when it's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season: working, shopping, decorating, hosting, eating, cleaning and cooking. Before you know it, December is over with. That's why it is so important as a parent to recognize and savor every special moment you can, not only for your child, but for you too! This is where crafting saves the day.

Even with Busy Parent Syndrome (that's what I call it), there are still oodles of easy ways to carve out time with your kids to make the most of the magic. Here are some of my favorite kid-friendly projects that all have an artful twist. You can choose to give them as gifts or use them in your house for decorations. 

Toy Shadow Box

Buy a wood silverware tray and stand it upright. Have your child color images, or choose his or her favorite photos and use a glue stick to line the back of the tray's compartments with them. Have your child gather up some mini-toys (think gumball machine size). Use a heavy-duty, non-toxic white craft glue such as Aleene's® Tacky Glue, and glue the toys upright to make a shadow box. Use Scrabble tiles to spell out a title of the art piece and glue the letters along the top of the box. Set it on a dresser to display, or add a hanging attachment. If you want to add a holiday element, buy some miniature holiday tree decorations and incorporate them. This is a wonderful way for kids to clean out their junk drawers and toy chests, and it teaches them about assemblage art, and even recycling! 

Funny Family Wrapping Paper

Gather up family photos and color copy them. Also find some artwork or coloring pages from your child and color copy those too. Last, if you have a home copier/printer, take all kinds of small items, flat ornament, mistletoe, etc and have your child arrange them on printer/copier.  Type up some of your family's favorite quotes - for example something that Grandma is known for saying! Cut out all these items so you have a lot of fun materials to choose from. Take an extra large piece of construction paper, and you and your child make a fun collage. Make color copies at your local copy center, and now you have custom wrapping paper for small to medium size gifts! For a smaller version, use a sheet of typing paper and use for making greeting cards or other crafts. You can keep the original and use it as a master to make more copies down the road. 

Gingerbread Gift Boxes

Instead of making a traditional gingerbread house,  make small gingerbread gift boxes to hold candies, cookies, gum or other small treats. Decorate the boxes with icing and gumdrops, let harden. Fill with treats and seal in a cell wrap bag and give out to friends! 

As a mom of two, I've learned a few tricks and tips when it comes to crafting with the kiddos. 

  • If you are not into loose glitter, try some of the new liquid squeeze-on glitter that dries to look just like loose glitter.
  • Buy a package of plastic gloves at the craft store if you don't want messy, sticky hands.
  • Have your kids make their own slogan t-shirts using foam letter stamps and fabric paint.
  • Keep all the art supplies in one box so kids will easily learn to put everything away in the same spot.
  • If you plan on doing a lot of messy crafts, buy a roll of brown wrapping paper (found in the shipping section of your local store). Use it to cover your work area to protect surfaces.
  • Make a holiday CD of all your family's favorite songs. In fact make a few copies so your child can share it with friends or teachers.
  • Take pictures of the entire process, so you can oooh and ahhh over it years later - maybe even make a scrapbook!
  • If your kids are a bit older, let them use a small camera to take pictures to use in their crafts.
  • Have a mini-crafting party where kids and relatives can come and make fun gifts to make and trade. 


susan writes...

I take care of my three year old granddaughter and need things to keep her busy.can you give me some ideas?

Kathy? writes...

Hi Susan!
There are all kinds of things to try, I think she might like the wrapping paper idea. You could also buy a roll of brown packing paper and have her use chunky foam stamps on it to make her own wrapping paper. You could use red and green colors to make it holiday-ish, and use shapes so she will learn them. Best of luck! Kathy :-)

Gabrielle writes...

Love your ideas, Kathy! I'm eager to try these with my 3 1/2 year old daughter; especially the Ginger Bread Gift Box. Only thing is, a lot of times, my daughter doesn't want to give her creations away. Any ideas on how to help her part with her crafts, so she can give them as gifts this Christmas? Thanks!

Kathy? writes...

Hi Gabrielle!
My kids were the same way at that age. It helps if you make extra, that way they have one to keep and one to give away. I'd suggest using graham crackers and the frosting to make a bunch of boxes that can be shared - and kept too! Best of luck! Kathy :-)

Mrs.jackson writes...

Hello. My name is Sheryl and I'm new to this website so my questions are: Where can I find things to do with my two kids, a daughter who is 2 and a half and a son who is 1 and 2months? I would like to find out how to make fun kids' things with them, such as little snacks and games. Thanks so much for your time, bye bye.

Note: edited for clarification by Jean (PBS Parents)

Kathy? writes...

Hi Sheryl!! There are all kinds of fun books on the market, but I think you could have fun with air dry clay, have them imprint their hands or feet and then you let it dry and then fill the imprint space with tiny pictures of them, or maybe just squeeze glitter. Another cute idea that is very popular right now is making a silouette. You can trace your kids' profiles onto black paper and have them decorate it colorful markers or paints that show up on black paper - or you can use red paper for the holidays! Frame it when you are done. Hope these ideas help. now I wish my kids were that age again so I could do these projects with them! Happy holidays! Kathy :-)

Emily writes...

I have tons of beach glass from many years of vacationing with my family on the Maine coast. Can you suggest some easy gifts that I can make using the beach glass? Thanks!

Kathy? writes...

Emily! You are so lucky to have all that beach glass! You could buy some glass jars and pour the beach glass on the bottom and insert a ocean/tropical-scented candle. Wrap it all up in clear cello wraq with a pretty handmade gift tag with a beach theme. That way they can open the gift, light the candle and relax!
Kathy :-)

Marsha writes...

I just had a baby in September. For her first Christmas I wanted to make a special ornament -- something that she would keep and hang on her tree when she grows up. What ideas do you have for such a "keepsake" ornament?

Kathy? writes...

Hi Marsha!
My favorite newborn ornaments are ones with their thumbprint on bisque. You can purchase bisque ornaments at your local paint-on-pottery type of studio. you simply press their thumb on an ink pad and gently press it on the ornament and then you can use a fine marker to write their name and the date. I used to go to an art fair every year just to get these ornaments for my kids. I have them every year up until they were about 6 or 7. It is so sweet to see their thumbprint in graduated sizes on the tree! If you want, you can even "draw" on ears and a tail to make their thumbprint look like a little mouse :-)

Jennifer writes...

I love the idea of having a craft party. I also think my 5 year old who has been asking to have her friends come over for a party would love it. Do you have any suggestions for making a craft party run smoothly?

Kathy? writes...

Hi Jennifer!
First of all, round up a couple of helpers! Choose a project, like painting an ornament, making a card, etc) and sort each child's supplies into separate bags - kind of like crafty goodie bags! Set up a couple of samples of finished projects. I always like to set other supplies in the middle of the table. This season is all about sparkles, but if you do not want loose glitter all over the place, they have glitter markers on the market that you can use! At the end of the party, display all the kids' finished projects so they all feel like their hard work is being appreciated!
Kathy :-)

Rosanne writes...

I ask for last years erasable calenders from my friends at work and use them on my craft table!. They clean up easily as well as protect the surface of my table.As an added extra,I am recycling!

Kathy? writes...

Oh my gosh Rosanne - that is an awesome idea! And think of all the uses for the squares - you could draw pictures in there, use them for storytelling, all kinds of projects! I think it would also be cute to sew the calendar pages together into a tote to help hold some of the art supplies or toys!
Kathy :-)

Cally writes...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! My daughter and me have made a whole batch of these cute little snow globes I found on the Supernanny website: they’re real easy (tho I have had to decant every food item in my house that came in a jar into plastic tubs!). They look so cute! Here is the link:,-play-and-lifestyle/-/Fun,-play-and-events/Make-a-Christmas-snow-globe.aspx

Kathy? writes...

Hi Cally! i LOVE those snowglobes, they are so cute and easy to make!! Thank you for sharing!
Kathy :-)

Jessie writes...

Hi Kathy. What great ideas you've presented here. I'm one of those people who collects things all the time with hopes of being crafty and finding time to do so. I have boxes of goodies from colored feathers and sequins to broken plates that I hope to use in a mosaic sometime. For the wannabe crafter like me (with two kids, three if you count husband) what advice do you have for finding time and projects for starting small. Thanks.

Kathy? writes...

Hi Jesse! Thank you for writing! I always tell people that with kids and a busy lifestyle, it's a good idea to plan a block of time when you know you can do art. Just like you would plan a doctor's appt or a family party, set aside a block of time, like a Saturday morning or afternoon. That way you are mentally prepared and can set it up and have fun and relax. If we wait for the perfect time, it will never come and time will pass us by, so I try to set aside time in advance. And if those magical pockets of time do pop up, all the better!
Kathy :-)

Vickie Howell writes...

Fabulous ideas as always, Kath! xo, Vic

Deb writes...

I was wondering if PBS has a product website to buy costume characters that show on the PBS channel, I have a 3 year old that wants the Super Why! Character for Christmas, and I am just having a hard time finding that costume, or do you have any ideas on how to make one? please help me I have a 3 year old that is dying to have this costume, thanks for your help!
Desperate Mom Deb

Jean (PBS Parents)? writes...

Hi Deb,
Unfortunately, there are no SUPER WHY products yet. There will be a couple of DVDs available in January, but other products won't be available for awhile. If you are looking for ideas on how to make a SUPER WHY costume you might check out the comments posted to the Expert Q&A with Angela Santomero and Samantha Freeman, the show's creators. One of the moms who posted a comment included full instructions for making a costume. Hope this helps!

Kathy? writes...

Hi Deb! I hunted around online and found a crafty mom who made her son a costume like this (excerpt below):

"My handiwork was limited to scrounging a SuperWhy graphic from the PBS kids website, and printing it onto iron on paper (T ironed it on because I got performance anxiety). The Boy had a long sleeved blue shirt already so it became the under layer..."

Here is the link if you would like to see the full post, picture and all!

Kathy :-)

asma writes...

hi kathy
i love ur ideas and i'll definitly apply them with my 4 years old daughter,but what should i do to keep my 1 year old daughter busy,so that she won't disturb us in doing all these projects.
mom asma

Patty writes...

My 5 year old grandson wants to make a dream catcher and I can't find where to find a site to find directions.

Kathy? writes...

Hi Patty!
Here are some directions from, but it looks a bit complicated, so you may want to help your grandson. It will make a nice QT (quality time) project!

Kathy :-)

Kayla writes...

Thanks!! I have a sunday school class and I wanted to do something special for christmas, I think I'll do the ginger bread boxes. Thanks again, I hope they like it!

Kathy? writes...

You are most welcome!
Kathy :-)

Marie writes...

The site also has a page on making a dream catcher for kids:

It actually has pictures on the page showing the steps for the project.

The Unique Craft writes...

That's an amazing idea specially Toy Shadow Box. I'll make one in my daughter's room because she always puts junk anywhere. Thank's for this great idea.

Craft Shows writes...

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Craft Fairs writes...

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Skippers Ticket writes...

Thats great, I never knew before this blog.

I was just thinking about Holiday Crafts for the Busy Parent and you've really helped out. Thanks!

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Thanks!! I have a sunday school class and I wanted to do something special for christmas, I think I'll do the ginger bread boxes.

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Samuel writes...

Great info.My son is 3.And he is very much interested craft.What is the right age to start. San Jose Movers

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